Australia’s defences against a devastating outbreak of African swine fever will be boosted with more sniffer dogs, biosecurity officers and X-ray machines.
Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie on Wednesday announced a $66 million package to put more frontline detection services at the nation’s borders.
But a biosecurity levy announced in the 2018 budget is being abandoned, with the government to spend the next year consulting on a new model.
The sea freight tax was slated to raise $325 million over three years to protect Australian agriculture.
But it missed start dates in July and September following backlash from the shipping industry.
Senator McKenzie said she expects an alternative levy to be in place from January 2021 after further consultation with importers.
“We’ll be developing that model and refining that over the coming 12 months,” she told reporters in Canberra.
Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said it had been more than two years since Wendy Craik’s expert committee recommended a levy to strengthen quarantine defences.
“The fact is the Liberal-National government has failed to implement the levy,” he said.
“Now we’re waiting for another year regardless of the fact the Craik review made it clear Australia’s biosecurity system needs more resources now, not in 2021.”
To combat swine fever, 130 more biosecurity officers will be on patrol to do half a million more screenings from January next year.
Six new detector dogs will be deployed at airports and mail centres by July next year.
Melbourne and Sydney mail centres will get two new three-dimensional X-ray machines, while biosecurity officers will be able to issue on-the-spot infringement notices at airports.
An outbreak of the disease, which kills about 80 per cent of the pigs it infects but isn’t dangerous to humans, could decimate Australia’s $5 billion pork industry.
Herds across Europe and Asia have been crushed, with China – the world’s biggest consumer of pork – copping heavy losses.
The disease is now on Australia’s doorstep after being detected in East Timor.
Senator McKenzie flagged tough action against people caught bringing in suspect items after six people had visas cancelled for failing to declare food products in their luggage.
“If people continue to flout our biosecurity laws and our desire to keep our status as a pest- and disease-free nation, then they’ll be feeling the full force of our laws,” she said.
Officials recently war-gamed a swine fever outbreak during “Exercise Razorback” designed to test capability.